Lord Freud wanting the disabled to be paid below the minimum wage is a new low for the Tories

And there was me thinking that the party's attitude to the disabled couldn't get any worse

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Unemployment for disabled people stands at a shocking 50 per cent, and the banker turned welfare minister Lord Freud thinks (out loud) that there’s a reason for that. It’s because they’re not worth the money.

Freud has a solution to the problem of disabled unemployment. Allow companies to pay less than the minimum wage so they’ll be worth it. Why hasn’t anyone worked this out before?

Perhaps it is because that morally it stinks. Quite apart from the fact that it is blatantly prejudicial, creating a lower class of workers out of those with certain disabilities, it also displays a crass ignorance of the contribution disabled people make.

The fact is that the 50 per cent of the disabled who have jobs tend, on the whole, to work rather hard to keep them. We are also, as a rule, reluctant to take time off sick for the same reason. Because of this, hiring disabled people can actually be of great benefit to employers.

That being the case, it might be rather useful were someone in Freud’s position to ask why more of them aren’t realising this and taking advantage of it. And what the Government could be doing to address the issue.

I’d be interested to know what he meant by that “small group”. People with learning disabilities? Or those at the severe end of the spectrum of physical disabilities? Perhaps Freud might like to enlighten us? And enlighten us as to why people in these “small groups” aren’t worth it.

Here’s the thing. The minimum wage falls some way short of being a living wage as it is - that’s why two independently set living wages (one for London, one for the rest of the UK) were created. To suggest that a vulnerable group be paid less than the miserly pay packet that it offers is both exploitative and contemptible.

Conservative policy towards disabled people has up until now been to treat hundreds of thousands of people with serious physical challenges as if they aren’t, in fact, disabled. If you can walk 20 yards, however uncomfortable it may be, and however many aids you may require, in the view of the Government you aren’t disabled.

But these latest comments plumb new depths. Esther McVey, the employment minister, has claimed that his words “will haunt him”, and while Freud has since apologised, so they should.